She was beautiful.

She was not and never would be a model. She had neither a model's perfect body nor a model's perfect face. But she had riveting green eyes, tousled blonde hair, and a nonstop electric smile. She was captivating, gorgeous, sexy, beautiful.

If I may indulge in the tired old cliche, it was love at first sight.

And it got better after I finally got to meet her and talk to her. Smart as a whip, funny, enthusiastic, always smiling, goofy when she could be, serious when she had to be. She even enthused over Guns N' Roses in my presence, so I had no choice but to fall madly in love with her... and I wasn't the only one -- at least two other guys I knew were head-over-heels in love with her, too. We'd stand around and look smitten whenever she breezed through the room. I'm sure we looked quite amusing.

And when it's all written down here in black and white, it looks so damn trite, doesn't it? Reading over that last paragraph makes me personally ashamed, both as a writer (Who hasn't read this story countless times in badly-written potboilers? Or in the adolescent stalker-poetry scattered around E2?) and as a person (Why couldn't I have fallen for someone more fascinating and unique? And why didn't I know her well enough to be able to explain exactly why she was fascinating and unique?). Nevertheless, the cold, hard, embarrassing fact remains: I was utterly, completely, helplessly in love.

It took me so long to build up enough courage to ask her out, but when I did, I was surprised (surprised, hell -- flabbergasted is closer to the right word) when she said yes, she'd love to go out sometime. We were coming up on midterms, so she asked if we could wait two weeks before the date -- that was fine with me; to be honest, I needed that long to decide where we were going to go. I asked friends of mine where we should go and what we should do; most of them said I was a unique and interesting guy and should pick something atypical and out-of-the-ordinary to do. For a while, I planned on a picnic in the dorm basement, but I eventually decided that was too out-of-the-ordinary. I finally decided on the traditional dinner-and-a-movie...

So the day came, I picked her up, we ate a nice dinner, we ate some ice cream afterwards, we were too early for the movie, we browsed through a nearby bookstore, we went to the movie, I dropped her off back at her dorm, I drove back to my dorm and berated myself all night long. Did it go well? Would I have any way of knowing? Did she give off any cues or clues indicating whether she had fun? Sweat and worry, all night long...

When I saw her in class the next day... all I saw of her all day long was the back of her head. She never looked at me. She didn't wave. She didn't say hello. For me, that was the cue I was afraid of. She didn't have fun. She was in no way interested in another date. Bourbon was plentiful in those days...

It was three months after I had graduated and had left college behind forever, that the words "playing hard-to-get" suddenly forced their way into my forebrain. Was that my problem? Had I misinterpreted playing hard-to-get as disinterest? Or had my original interpretation of her behavior been right all along? Was there any way to tell for sure? I ran farther away, enrolled in a graduate school, and tried to start dating again. But I ended up comparing everyone to her: none of the eyes were green enough, none of the smiles electric enough. The few girls I asked out sensed that I was comparing them to someone else and turned me down cold.

Eventually, I got tired.

In the end, one cold, hard, embarrassing fact remains: I let her get away because I was too afraid to ask her out again. She may have said yes. She may have said no. But because I couldn't find the common courage to ask the question, I alone shoulder the blame for what-could-have-been. Someday, maybe I'll stop being a coward. Someday, maybe I'll stop living in the past. But first, I'll have to throw away the e-mail address I dug off her high school's alumni site... and I'm just not ready to do that yet...

After reading Jet-Poop's wu, I began to think about my own act of "relationship cowardice" that affected my life greatly.

Her name was Angela and she was probably the first love of my life. Yeah, everybody goes through silly puppy love and crushes when they're young but this was the first time that I truly felt love that went beyond all that "kissy kissy" crap and dove right into beauty of all dimensions. I'd tell you more about Angela but I've already done a wu on her so you can check it out yourself.

Anyway, when I first met her, we would talk for hours on end about everything. She was beautiful, intelligent, witty, and not only a good talker but a great listener. Up to that point, I had never been as open to anybody as I was with her...I told her all of my aspirations, my fears, and everything in between. At the end of each of our long conversations, she would always seem surprised that we had been talking for around 3 hours...time just flew by so quickly.

Angela had just started going to the church that I was attending on the odd moment and soon after, she had begun her transformation from a young and beautiful woman into a young, beautiful, devout Christian woman. Funny thing is that as much as I was not following Christian values (the drinking, smoking, and general nastiness didn't help), I think that I fell in love with her even more because she became so passionate about her beliefs...this passion just added to her already overwhelming beauty.

We did go out on a date but it was a disaster and I won't go into it here. We decided that it would be wise for us to hold off on any further dates until our relationship grew a little more.

Well, my actions didn't help much. I drank more, screwed around more, and acted like a real bonehead. On the other hand, she delved more and more into the ongoings at the church and became one of the most active members there. Gradually, our lives began to drift apart.

One year, prior to most of us leaving town for university, we had one of our annual camping trips by Lac Phillipe. It was a great time but, as usual, I was the brooding and dour person of the bunch. Angela would try to approach me and talk but I, being stupid, would brush her off each time.

Finally, I told her that if we were going to talk, I wanted to do so in privacy. We then walked down to the lakeside at night and sat together staring out at the moonlit waters. We struck up a conversation like we used to and it went well until I blurted out, "Hey, I've been wanting to tell you something and I figured that since we're all leaving for university soon, now is a good a time as any."

She looked at me inquistively with her beautiful brown eyes and asked what it was that I wanted to say.

"Well, I just wanted to say that I'm still in love with you. I loved you then and I love you now and, man, it kills me to think that we're not together."

She was stunned and speechless. I continued talking.

"I know that we said that we shoud hold off until our relationship grew. But it would seem that it hasn't grown much and is actually moving apart. However, throughout all of this, I still think of you constantly, through night and day."

Still no response. I went on.

"Maybe we're not meant to be together. I can accept that. All I want to know is this...did you ever have the same feelings for me? Did you ever think of me as much as I've thought of you?"

Long pause. Finally, a response.

"I'm, uh, flattered. I really am. I don't know what to say."

Long pause again...then the slap to my face.

"I don't know if I could love anybody as much as I love God."

Now it was my turn to be stunned. That wasn't really answering my question but in some strange way, it was. There was a really long pause now and then I replied.

"I understand your love for God. I'm not looking to replace that by any means...kind of difficult to replace an omnipotent divine power with an 18 year old Chinese punk kid. All I want to know is whether you've ever thought about us. A dream, a fleeting moment, deja vu, whatever...all I want to know is did it ever cross your mind?"

Silence. A really long deathly silence...which said enough to me.

The conversation ended when a group of our friends from the campsite came out searching for us, thinking that we were attacked by a bear or something. We all headed back to the campsite together and I tried to forget that it ever happened.

On our ride home the very next day, as I began to sulk over the previous night's debacle, Angela came up to me in our bus and handed me a tape. It was some album by Michael W. Smith, a Christian music artist. She instructed me to listen to the first song on side B of the tape.

"That will tell you how I feel."

So I did. The song was called "On the Other Side". I won't include the full lyrics but I'll show you the following excerpt that really killed me.

Why is it hard for you to see
All the changes made in me
Here on the other side
Oh, I could help you understand
And you could join me where I am
I am on the other side

What did it mean? Was she trying to tell me that we could be together but the only thing holding me back was my lack of complete devotion to God?

Being the irrational and stupid boy that I was, I became angry...angry at her, angry at the church, and angry at God. I didn't know what to I just became angry at the Holy Father for messing up what could have been a great relationship.

When Angela asked if I had listened to the tape, I replied coldly, "I don't have time to listen to this stuff." To this day, I have never seen a look of disappointment on anybody's face as I did that day when I told her that.

We didn't talk again for days which led to weeks and then to months and eventually years. She had left for another church and I hardly heard about her after that.

Until she died.

On that day, a whole floodgate of memories was opened up and I was overwhelmed with regret. After so many years of not thinking about what could have been, I couldn't stop thinking about it again. All that time wasted when I was younger, only thinking about how I was screwed by God and that there was no hope of Angela and I ever getting back together. It finally dawned on me that it was never anybody's fault but my own - all due to my own cowardice. Was it really all that difficult for me to try and see if I could see things the way she did? Was it really that hard to try to understand and perhaps embrace what she believed in?

Was it really all that impossible for me to join her on the other side?

I suppose I'll never know...and this will haunt me for the rest of my life.

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